Cannabis companies continue to struggle with inconsistent guidelines and the arbitrary enforcement of Terms of Service imposed by social media sites like Facebook Meta and Instagram, but social media marketing is not a platform that any business can afford to overlook. Twitch, an American company operated by Twitch Interactive and a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc., (NASDAQ: AMZN) is a live video streaming service that focuses primarily on video games that might just present a viable marketing alternative to more restrictive social media environments.
William Zorn is a content creator for Twitch and sales and marketing executive for Toronto-based grnhouse agency, which is under the ADCANN umbrella. His blog post about cannabis marketing potential on Twitch recently appeared on ADCANN’s website. Zorn says he was inspired to write the piece because he has spoken to hundreds of retailers who have had their accounts removed from Instagram unjustly. “The post was my way of challenging cannabis marketers to look outside of those core social media sites into things that are a little bit newer and more exciting.” Exciting indeed. In his blog post, Zorn cites a recent Brightfield Group poll that showed that 54% of gamers use cannabis while playing video games, with an 86% increase in cannabis use before/while playing video games from Q1 to Q3 of 2020.
According to Zorn, Twitch has found ways to surmount several obstacles posed by marketing cannabis on social media. “Many cannabis marketers have a hard time finding effective ways of age-gating content and Twitch has a really great way of doing it. On top of asking viewers to verify their ages and using ESRB ratings, Twitch allows creators to mark their materials for mature audiences.” This is something, Zorn explains, that as a creator who makes cannabis a focal point of what he does on the platform, has been instrumental to his success. “Do I think that cannabis companies should go to a Minecraft streamer and sponsor that stream? No, absolutely not, because that category consists of people looking for content for kids. What I do is play hardcore military shooters, which have an older age demographic playing and watching them. In the titling of my streams, I mark them as 19+. Before any of my content starts playing, there’s a warning that the content is for a mature audience and users have to press a button to continue through.”
Zorn attributes the hesitancy of cannabis companies to market on Twitch to a lack of platform knowledge. Many companies interested in utilizing it expect a thousand active followers within a month, but that’s just not how it works. Marketers think, “Well, who wants to watch someone else play video games?” The answer to that is: millions and millions of people, adding up to 1460 billion minutes watched across the globe.
Cannabis brands have options when it comes to using Twitch to get the word out about their products, including the ability to drop into direct chats on streams for free and hosting subscription giveaways. Zorn says brand engagement really depends on the creator’s level of comfort. “A creator hosting a sponsored stream wouldn’t be comfortable with another brand coming in and looking to shill, but for others, it works great. Thumbs Up Cannabis created a Twitch account and jumped into a couple of my streams in a very brand-agnostic way and did a little chat. They did it very respectfully and l left it open to me as a creator to provide them with the opportunity to discuss their product. I thought it was a great opportunity for the both of us.”
Companies can also engage by sponsoring streams by small-scale creators who they think are doing interesting things either through financial support or helping to market the stream. It’s very much like the social media influencer model, but unlike on Instagram, says Zorn, this doesn’t put the creator at risk of having their account deleted. Content creators on other sites are very hesitant to work with brands because it puts them under the microscope of the platform’s algorithms. Twitch is hospitable towards cannabis content, so creators are more willing to engaging with brands there. Additionally, on Instagram stories, for example, it’s hard to get real-time metrics on engagement. On Twitch, you can see how many people are active on the stream and the site provides stream summaries to measure the success of the stream afterward.
Twitch’s Terms of Service are key to making it more cannabis-friendly than other platforms. One of the biggest complaints from many content creators and marketers about Instagram and Facebook is that since they are American companies and cannabis is not federally legal in America, cannabis content is not allowed on those platforms. Twitch’s policy is that smoking weed during a live stream is allowed as long as it occurs in a country or region where cannabis is legal. Snoop Dogg did a live stream on Twitch in 2018 where he smoked cannabis. Since he was in California at the time, this was acceptable by Twitch’s guidelines.
While Zorn’s enthusiasm for Twitch’s potential as a cannabis marketing platform borders on the evangelical, it is hard to argue with the glaring differences between Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Instagram’s treatment of cannabis content and Twitch’s approach. “I would say to any cannabis marketer, open up the way you think about cannabis marketing and really start understanding who it is that’s consuming your product,” Zorn states. “See if there’s that overlap. If your product does really well in the gaming community or you think it might, hop on to Twitch and take a look around. These creators have really active, passionate communities that you don’t see on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.”